Praying for Republicans to fold was an even riskier play for Democrats, given the stakes. If, for the first time, the U.S. government could not meet its obligations to international lenders, its role as the world economy’s safe-harbor investment would be called into question. Interest rates would most likely rise sharply, and global financial institutions would begin searching for new vehicles to store money, where it would not be subject to the whims of partisan politics.
“We’re not asking them to blink; we’re asking them to be the slightest bit reasonable,” Senator Angus King, a centrist independent from Maine, said of Republican leaders. “The political gain of this strikes me as low. The loss to the country strikes me as extraordinarily high.”
Understand the U.S. Debt Ceiling
What is the debt ceiling? The debt ceiling, also called the debt limit, is a cap on the total amount of money that the federal government is authorized to borrow via U.S. Treasury bills and savings bonds to fulfill its financial obligations. Because the U.S. runs budget deficits, it must borrow huge sums of money to pay its bills.
Republican obstruction on the borrowing limit forced Democrats last week to strip a debt-ceiling increase from a must-pass spending bill to avert a government shutdown. And Mr. McConnell refused to allow Democrats to unilaterally move to a vote.
“Democratic leaders haven’t wanted solutions,” Mr. McConnell said on the Senate floor on Wednesday. “They’ve wanted to turn their failure into everybody else’s crisis, playing risky games with our economy, using manufactured drama to bully their own members, indulging petty politics instead of governing.”
Top Democrats have since dropped their insistence that Republicans join them in bipartisan support for raising the statutory cap on the government’s ability to borrow to meet its financial obligations. They, in turn, want Mr. McConnell to honor his demand that Democrats lift the ceiling alone — either by granting consent to move to a vote or by providing 10 Republican votes to break the filibuster.
“We’ve already presented Republicans numerous opportunities to do what they say they want, including by offering a simple majority vote so Democrats can suspend the debt ceiling on our own as Republicans have asked,” Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, said on Wednesday. “But each time, Republicans have chosen obstruction.”
While top Republicans have said most of their members would privately support allowing Democrats to move forward on their own, they have been unwilling to vote publicly that way, and any single senator can object and force a vote.